Bishop Steven Lopes on Ordinariate’s Missal and Gift of English Catholic Patrimony

Exclusive: Shepherd of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter talks with the Register.

Bishop Steven J. Lopes recesses out of the sanctuary after his ordination to be the first bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Feb. 2 in Houston.
Bishop Steven J. Lopes recesses out of the sanctuary after his ordination to be the first bishop of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on Feb. 2 in Houston. (photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP)

BALTIMORE — This Advent marks the first anniversary of Divine Worship: The Missal, the third form of the Roman rite, approved by Pope Francis for the personal ordinariates set up by Pope Benedict XVI to give Anglicans and the full English Christian patrimony a permanent home in the Catholic Church for all to enjoy.

Bishop Steven Lopes of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, a non-territorial diocese covering North America, sat down for this exclusive interview with Register staff reporter Peter Jesserer Smith during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall Assembly.

Bishop Lopes, who had been involved in the life of the ordinariates since his time at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith up to his ordination as bishop in February 2016, spoke about the impact of Divine Worship, the gift of the ordinariate’s English Catholic patrimony to the life of the Church — including his favorite prayer — and the new developments and opportunities that lie ahead for the ordinariate.

This Advent marks the first anniversary of Divine Worship: The Missal. What effect have you seen this missal have on the ordinariate and its parishes?

I think the missal has been very significant in articulating the baseline of patrimony. Whereas we could identify bits and pieces of it before, this is the first time where it has all been collected into one place and codified in the basis of law, which I think is also very significant. Part of the reality of Catholic life is that our worship expresses and gives contour to our faith, and so to worship in good order also means that we are rightly believing and rightly acting. The missal was a transition for every single priest and every single community of the ordinariate. It was not a ratification of this practice over that other practice, or this experience in this parish versus that experience in that parish. The drafters on the commission that worked on it really did try to look at the whole arc of this 500 years of ecclesial separation and ask the patrimony question in this way: What is it that nurtured faith, and nurtured it in such a way that prompted these aspirations to Christian unity? All of that, in a certain sense, had to be accounted for in the new missal. And the missal is also now Church law. This is the other thing that has kind of been interesting and challenging for some of our communities, because in prior Anglican experience, what was codified here was not observed there, practice over here had no impact or relevance to practice in other parts of the country, and to say, “No, this is the weight of the Church itself” has required some adjustment.

I’m enormously pleased how generous, faithful and docile the priests have been. Their focus was pastoral: Let’s get this right, understand the missal on its own terms, not just interpret it in light of past experiences — and let’s bring it out to nurture the experience of this particular parish community.


What is the patrimony of the ordinariate? How would you define it?

I think that’s a question that has no easy answer, and that’s not a bad thing. In a certain sense, it’s not for me to say, but it can’t be said without me, as the bishop. There’s a sense to which we’re delving into that question, and that’s not a question that’s answered in one moment or one occasion or at one time; it’s something that has to develop.

I think you look at the liturgy and say, “That’s an obvious expression of patrimony.” It isn’t the only expression of patrimony, but it is the most tangible. It’s the thing that immediately gives a distinctive quality to our prayer and worship in the Catholic community, so that when you come into an ordinariate parish you can say, “Aha! This is something new, something different, something other than what I experience in any other parish.” That’s what patrimony is supposed to do: nurturing faith and promoting good moral action and decision-making.

There are other elements of patrimony that I think we’re only beginning to develop. I’ve made 37 pastoral visits since Feb. 2, and I would say, very clearly, there is something patrimonial about the way that our communities structure parish life. Now, it’s hard to give words to that, and explain even to the other bishops that the way we do parish, the way that our prayer and worship is met with fellowship, the way that we’re intentional about our small community gatherings, which nurture and support the larger parish gathering — all of that is hard to give language to. It’s not as tangible as say, the “Prayer of Humble Access” in the missal, but it is absolutely crucial to our identity as an ordinariate, because it’s what nurtures our life in as important of a way as the missal does.

The more these kinds of things come to the fore, the more they get experienced and talked about, I think, the better. Ultimately, that’s a conversation that happens among the lay faithful and their priests, their priests with me and the lay faithful, and we begin to put words on that experience.


Would you say the ordinariate, in a sense, heals the breach in English Catholic patrimony by reaching back through the Anglican tradition to its English Catholic roots?

I would think so. There’s a marvelous description of patrimony that Archbishop [Joseph Augustine] Di Noia gave in a talk for the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham. He talked about the fact that patrimony is developed by the Church peering back through these traditions, through these expressions, and through these experiences, and seeing something that is authentically her own, and yet expressed in a new and felicitous way. So it’s the recognizing something that is authentically her own that allows the Church to say, “Yes, we can reincorporate that into Catholic life, because we recognize in it something true, and that diversity of expression only augments and underscores the truth, rather than obscures.”

You see there’s a diversity that gives life and vitality, and a diversity that obscures, and the judgment on that is ultimately one that has to be made by the Church.


Over the past year, how have you seen the ordinariate growing?

We’re growing in a number of ways, thanks be to God. Grace is certainly with us and abundant, in that the Lord continues to raise up vocations to the priesthood. We have four celibate young men studying for the priesthood right now; three more are in conversation with me about entering the seminary next year. Vocations are such a pastoral priority and desire for so many bishops. The fact that our ordinariate is growing that particular way, I can only attribute to God’s grace. You see it with the way that our parish communities are growing. Those that have found stability and traction, and have creative ways of outreach and education and evangelization, are certainly experiencing growth. They are certainly attracting new members, both converting Anglicans, Episcopalian folks, but also re-enlivening people who maybe have grown lukewarm or cold in the practice of their Catholic faith and re-engaging those folks also into our life and worship. You see that, certainly.


I heard that the new Divine Office for the ordinariate was given a test run. Can you talk about that and why morning and evening prayer is so important for laity and clergy in the life of the ordinariate?

A couple of our communities are beta-testing a one-volume book of the Divine Office for use in the ordinariate. In order to pray it, you would need one Office book and the Bible. As a one-volume book, it doesn’t contain the scriptural lessons. You would need a Bible for that. I think it’s very faithful to the Tradition — easily recognizable as the Divine Office from the prayer-book tradition. The draft text has been in Rome for some time waiting for approval … without any specificity when we might hear back on that, but I’m hopeful. That would be something, because it is an essential part of the experience and an essential contribution of the Anglican heritage to Catholic life: that something of the Divine Office was preserved in Anglicanism, where it had disappeared from the life of the Church everywhere else, except for the domain of the clergy.

The idea of the Divine Office as the parochial prayer of the people and the priest: What we think of as English country life, with the church bells ringing in the morning and the evening, was for the Divine Office.


Where did that come from?

Well, it came from the monasteries. It came from the Benedictine influence, which was really the foundation for the spirituality of England, of Catholic life in England and Wales. And so much of what we identify as the patrimony has its roots in monastic life, and that becomes a regular rhythm of prayer in which the people themselves participate.


Why is spiritual expression through sacred patrimony important for holiness, for growing closer to God?

Holiness isn’t something that just happens. It’s something that is nurtured, something that grows, something that is benefited by things like rhythm, stability — if you're always rushing and never quite can fit in your nightly prayers, well, then you wind up not praying a lot of times. That idea of a rhythm, a context — I’ll use the word “superstructure”: something that gives parameters, orientation, boundaries. When we’re talking about prayer in a specific tradition — Ignatian, Carmelite, Marianist, Benedictine — within the larger Catholic Tradition, those are those kinds of superstructures that people have discovered. The way that monks pray, the way that Ignatius of Loyola taught his followers to pray, that resonates with me, that gives the pattern for my own prayer, and it’s a pattern that I find not only challenges me, but allows it to grow. I think our patrimony and the experience of spirituality in English Catholic life is a lot like that.


What’s your favorite prayer from the patrimony?

I’d want to say something like the “Prayer of Humble Access,” because it’s just astoundingly beautiful, but the one I find myself using often in various situations, everything from the beginning of meetings to personal prayer, is the “Collect of Purity.” Beginning my own time of prayer and recollection with the Collect of Purity — like we begin the Mass with the Collect of Purity — that’s the one that’s certainly the most familiar and most frequently said, for me.


You spoke about fostering celibate vocations, and this is kind of a two-part question: With a community that is very experienced with married clergy, how do you foster celibate vocations and at the same time not lose the paternal-maternal presence that married clergy bring?

This is not going anywhere anytime soon. The reality is we have four — even six, if we admit the other two applying — celibate candidates for the priesthood. We have, right now, 10 or 11 married clergy candidates for ordination in the Catholic Church being formed at the same time. In that sense, we’re doing very well, but these two expressions of priestly vocation are going to be hand in hand, and side by side for quite a long while in the ordinariate. There’s a lot to learn from that. There’s a lot possible with that. Yes, of course, there’s some tension with that — a tension that I have to navigate with the communities, particularly when it comes to attitudes or presuppositions they might have about unmarried clergy, and what’s more preferable, to have a married or celibate priest? In Catholic circles, in [the Latin Church’s] Catholic life, immediately the answer is, “Oh, we want a celibate priest,” whereas a number of ordinariate parishes say, “Oh, we want a married priest. It’s what we’ve known.”

It’s something I navigate with my clergy. Many of them who have that experience of what married clerical life looks like as an Anglican have been greatly challenged trying to translate that into a Catholic ministerial context, where that expression is unknown, and it’s hard because Catholic parish life is very different. So I have to be attentive to the priests because they get spread thin very quickly. There’s a demand and expectation that goes somewhere hand in hand with the total “given-ness” of celibate life that is part of Catholic culture, and so carving out appropriate time for spouse and family is not always easy; and yet, of course, it’s necessary, and good, and constitutive of their own holiness as priests. So I’d say that’s a challenge. But not all challenges are bad things. Challenges help us grow. As these two expressions sit side by side, there’s a mutuality there that will benefit the ordinariate.


Thank you so much, Bishop Lopes, for taking time for this interview. Anything you would like to mention as a final word?

We’re creating not only new ecclesial structures, trying to put together this non-territorial diocese from scratch: We’re building things like an effective priest retirement fund, support for our seminarians, insurance, both health and every other kind. All of these structural things are enormously challenging; we’re dealing with real estate issues, all of that stuff. We can lose sight of just how exciting all of this is, just how pioneering all of this is, just how much this is a work of God’s providential grace. It is a mercy that we have been given this opportunity to create something that will change not only the lives of the men and women of the ordinariate, but it will change the way that the Church in England and the United States and Australia and Canada lives for the better, by having a dimension that will resound and will, therefore, draw people back to faith. So that is not only exciting; it’s a tremendous privilege for which we should be very, very grateful.


Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.

Prayers mentioned by Bishop Lopes in this interview:

The Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Prayer of Humble Access: We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

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